steel price

Unusually, the global steel market is diverging in the opposite direction from “normal.”

Historically, China would show signs of strength driven by robust construction activity while Europe and the U.S. struggled, facing more mature markets and relatively higher levels of foreign penetration.

The U.S. continues to power ahead. There, mill lead times remain stubbornly protracted.

Meanwhile, China is showing all kinds of uncertainty — much of it self-inflicted.

Receive the latest short-term and long-term outlook for the full range of industrial metals (base and ferrous) at the annual MetalMiner Forecasting Workshop on Aug. 25

China’s emissions efforts

China steel plant

gui yong nian/Adobe Stock

Although much was made of China’s ambitions to reduce emissions over the coming decade, after an initial flurry of anxiety the industry settled back to assume changes would be eased in gradually.

Indeed, Beijing even sought to play down the rate at which changes would be imposed following a sudden spike in prices as expectations of steel shortages took hold.

But over the last couple of weeks, it is becoming clear that cutbacks are happening. Output in the second half of the year is expected to be considerably less than the record first half.

Iron ore has taken a cue from both the message and the reality of cooling demand. Prices for 62% iron ore has dropped from the low 1,500s RMB/metric ton in early July to the mid-1,100s today on the Dalian exchange.

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The Raw Steels Monthly Metals Index (MMI) rose by 7.8% as U.S. and Chinese steel prices continued their rally.

August 2021 Raw Steels MMI chart

Volatility is the name of the game. Do you have a steel buying strategy that can handle the ups and downs?

Executive order on zero emissions, electric vehicles

On Thursday, Aug. 5, President Joe Biden’s office announced its intention to sign an executive order that sets a “new target to make half of all new vehicles sold in 2030 zero-emissions vehicles, including battery electric, plug-in hybrid electric or fuel cell electric vehicles.”

The announcement was well-received by the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI), as this executive order will boost domestic demand for steel. AISI CEO Kevin Dempsey said “the use of American-made steel, which is the cleanest in the world, will be key in the transition to EVs.”

As for the bipartisan infrastructure deal, the Senate voted 69-30 on Tuesday to pass a $1 trillion infrastructure package.

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The world’s largest steel producer and exporter, China, is actively contemplating adding more curbs to halt environment pollution which, most likely, will reduce its steel output and dampen exports.

That’s good news for some of China’s neighbors steel-producing rivals, India and Japan.

Stop obsessing about the actual forecasted steel price. It’s more important to spot the trend

Steel cuts

Chinese steel factory

fanjianhua/Adobe Stock

The China Iron and Steel Association (CISA) warned on its Wechat channel last Sunday of impending cuts in crude steel output along with government-led environmental checks.

Daily crude-steel output at major mills fell 5.6% in the first 10 days of July from June, Bloomberg reported. These were at steel plants in Shanxi, Hubei and Hebei provinces, and mills including China Baowu Steel Group and HBIS Group.

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U.S. steel imports reached an estimated 2.6 million metric tons in June, the Census Bureau reported today.

The total marked a jump of 13% from the 2.3 million metric tons the U.S. imported in May.

US steel imports rise

steelmaking in an EAF

nikitos77/Adobe Stock

Furthermore, through May, U.S. steel imports totaled 10.7 million metric tons, up 7% from 10.0 million through the first five months of 2020.

Pacing the June rise was a jump in imports of blooms, billets and slabs. Imports of the category reached 795,863 metric tons in June, up 31.7% from 604,340 metric tons in May. Meanwhile, the June total rose a whopping 1,000% compared with June 2020.

Imports of oil country goods jumped 35.2% from May to 154,073 metric tons in June.

In addition, imports of hot rolled sheets jumped by 50.7% to 311,461 metric tons in June. Imports of steel rebar rose 12.0% to 94,915 metric tons.

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MetalMiner experts recently joined ROTH Capital Partners for a webinar that covered a wide range of metals topics, including oil prices, macroeconomic trends, and insights into the aluminum, steel and copper markets.

bull market

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The webinar, which took place July 14, followed up on a previous MetalMiner-Roth webinar on May 20, 10 days after metals surged to record highs. Copper, for example, reached an all-time on May 10. MetalMiner CEO Lisa Reisman and Vice President of Business Solutions Don Hauser joined to share their insights on various markets, recapping metals movements in the two months since that peak.

If you missed it live, register here to receive a copy of the webinar recording to hear all of Reisman and Hauser’s insights from the hourlong webinar.

On July 28, get a sneak peek of the MetalMiner annual budgeting and forecasting workshop (a three-hour virtual event that will take place in August 2021). Get ready to plan for 2022. 

Bull market

While prices have come off of the record highs seen in May, they remain elevated. In short, we remain in a bull market.

“We are still in a bull market,” Reisman said. “The nonferrous metals are taking a pause but unless we see them start to fall off toward support levels … they’re still in a bull market.”

However, in terms of the “supercycle” narrative — which we have covered in this space previously — MetalMiner remains skeptical.

“The reason we’re struggling with the big supercycle narrative is that we would expect to see a decade, 1o years, of sustained, upward demand,” she said. “We don’t quite see that.”

With that said, metals demand currently is strong across a range of industries.

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This morning in metals news: ArcelorMittal said it plans to make its Sestao plant zero carbon emissions; meanwhile, the Producer Price Index for final demand increased by 1.0% in June; and, lastly, U.S. steel prices continue to rise.

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ArcelorMittal announces aim to build zero-carbon-emissions Sestao steel plant

ArcelorMittal logo

pvl/Adobe Stock

ArcelorMittal this week said it plans to make its steel plant in Sestao, Spain, the “world’s first full-scale zero carbon-emissions steel plant.”

“The development is the result of a memorandum of understanding signed today with the Government of Spain that will see an investment of €1 billion in the construction of a green hydrogen direct reduced iron (DRI) plant at its plant in Gijón, as well as a new hybrid electric arc furnace (EAF),” ArcelorMittal said.

The steelmaker said the new DRI plant will have capacity of 2.3 million metric tons. Of that total, 1 million metric tons would go to Sestao to be used as feedstocks in its electric arc furnaces (EAFs).

PPI up 1.0%

Elsewhere, the Producer Price Index (PPI) for final demand increased by 1.0% in June, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported.

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Shanghai steel futures extended gains to hit an eight-week high on Monday, according to a post on Nasdaq.com. Futures made further gains overnight, according to MetalMiner’s Insights platform.

Rebar and hot rolled coil both hit peaks last seen on May 19, when the market last spiked only to crash after dire warnings from Beijing about speculative activity and the threat of action against excessive rises in commodity prices.

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Chinese steel price fall off, then bounce back

China steel plant

gui yong nian/Adobe Stock

Since prices came off they have been making a steady recovery. Beijing’s pressure to curb excess production capacity as part of wider environmental targets raises the prospect of material shortages in the face of still robust demand.

 

Late last week, the People’s Bank of China announced it would cut the bank’s reserve requirement ratio by 50 basis points, effective from July 15. It would release around 1 trillion yuan to underpin an economic recovery that Nasdaq reports is starting to lose momentum.

The move supported further price rises. However, in reality, it would take months for the PBOC’s relaxation of reserve requirements to filter though into any increase in construction activity and, hence, demand.

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The Raw Steels Monthly Metals Index (MMI) rose by 6.6%, as U.S. steel prices continued their rally.

July 2021 Raw Steels MMI chart

The MetalMiner Best Practice Library offers a wealth of knowledge and tips to help buyers stay on top of metals markets and buying strategies.

Production, capability utilization rise

According to the World Steel Association, global crude steel production increased by 14.5% year over year for the first five months of 2021. North American steel production rose by 11.3% during that period, with a sharp 47.7% increase in May alone.

For the week of July 3, the American Iron and Steel Institute reported that domestic raw steel production totaled 1,842,000 net tons. The capability utilization rate reached 83.0%. There has been a slow but continuous increase since the week of Jan. 2, when the institute reported steel production was 1,650,000 net tons at a capability utilization rate of 74.6%.

Despite this increase, all forms of steel prices remain at an all-time high.

U.S. imports increase

The latest data from the Steel Import Monitoring and Analysis (SIMA) showed steel import permit applications for June increased by 12.4% compared to the previous month. Imports totaled 2,965,000 net tons.

Import permit tonnage for finished steel in June increased by 6.8% month over month to 1,982,000 net tons.

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China’s steelmaking raw materials and finished steel markets are in a real state of flux at the moment.

Receive the latest short-term and long-term outlook for the full range of industrial metals (base and ferrous) at the annual MetalMiner Forecasting Workshop on Aug. 25

Recovery and a new dynamic impacting steel prices

China steel production

Zhao Jiankang/AdobeStock

On the one hand, a robust recovery from the pandemic has supported rapid price increases, both in raw materials such as iron ore and coking coal. Finished steel prices, such as rebar and HR coil, have also increased.

But Beijing’s recent policy initiatives around curbing steel output and controlling greenhouse gas emissions have created a new dynamic that should be supporting steel prices in the expectation of reduced output, yet depressing raw material prices in the expectation of reduced raw material demand.

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Russia’s plan to introduce from Aug. 1 a temporary export duty on metal exports has brought varied reactions from European industry watchers and market participants.

“It’s about showing the strength of the Russian metals industry,” one analyst told MetalMiner.

Russia’s planned tariff may also be a retaliatory measure against Europe and its proposed carbon tax on metals imports from high-carbon producers, of which Russia is one, the analyst added.

“It feels like it is a broadside shot,” the analyst said.

The MetalMiner Best Practice Library offers a wealth of knowledge and tips to help buyers stay on top of metals markets and buying strategies.

Russia export duty to cover steel, base metals

tariff

Feng Yu/Adobe Stock

The Russian Federal Government’s Decree No. 988 of June 25 stipulates a 15% export duty from Aug. 1 to Dec. 31 on all steel – semi-finished and finished – as well as on copper nickel, and low-grade aluminum leaving the country and the wider Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).

Member states of the EAEU include Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia. In addition, Cuba, Moldova and Uzbekistan are observer states.

One of the more likely beneficiaries in Europe from the duty is the steel sector, sources told MetalMiner.

“Everybody loves this,” one analyst said about Russia’s tentative export duty, as it could further push up already-high prices for steel products in Europe.

Domestically produced hot rolled coil for Q4 production within Western Europe is now €1,170-€1,200 ($1,390-1,420) per ton exw, traders said. That marks an increase from the €1,120-1,130 ($1,370-1,385) reported earlier in June.

Planned shutdowns of rolling equipment or banking of hot ends for maintenance over Europe’s summer months could also further push up prices in the face of high demand throughout Western Europe, the analyst stated.

One steel trader voiced a similar opinion.

“This is great for everybody” the trader noted, as the decree will push up steel prices on both the domestic and import markets.

“Who’s gonna wait until the end of the year to acquire steel if Russia is out of the market?” the trader rhetorically asked.

Ukraine’s Metinvest is likely to also benefit from this. The group is a major supplier of long products into the E.U. Resulting higher prices will also mean more revenue.

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